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Expand and strengthen the living wage law to lift our communities

Stuart Appelbaum | 2/13/2014, 11:40 a.m.
Stuart Applebaum

When the New York City Council passed historic living wage legislation last year, it was an important step on a long road toward creating a fairer and more equitable city for all New Yorkers. The premise of the legislation is simple and widely supported: When public money is used to fund private development projects, the public has the right to expect that good, quality jobs will be created as a result, not low-wage jobs that keep workers in poverty.

Together, we now have a chance to realize the promise of a living wage even further. With very strong and committed progressive leaders in charge of city government—Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—we have the opportunity to expand the scope of the legislation so it includes a labor harmony requirement for all future economic development projects subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

Labor harmony agreements in economic development are well-established in New York and other places around the country. They benefit taxpayers, working people and businesses alike. Employers agree not to interfere with or block workers’ attempts to join unions. In return, unions agree not to engage in picketing, work stoppages, boycotts and other disruptions in the operation and flow of commerce at companies and stores that serve as tenants in development projects.

City taxpayers have a direct financial stake in retail developments and other projects funded with large sums of public money, and it’s in the public’s best interest that these developments proceed smoothly. Labor harmony promotes healthy, respectful relationships between workers and employers, and protects taxpayers by removing conflict from development projects and the businesses that anchor them. It also helps workers by creating a clear path for them to choose if they want to join a union.

Unions play an important role in leveling the playing field for minorities in the workplace, and without fear of intimidation and other tactics used regularly by employers, workers will join unions more often and help New York City create living wage jobs that can strengthen our communities. Union jobs offer better pay and benefits, and they deliver the kind of security that families need not just to survive, but to enter and stay in the middle class.

Requiring labor harmony for all future development projects funded with taxpayer dollars can help make our five boroughs fairer, more equitable places to live and work. A stronger city where all low-wage New Yorkers can climb up the economic ladder is well within reach.